As a coach, one of my favorite things to do is help other professionals use their natural talents to reach their potential. It’s especially rewarding to speak with those just starting out in their careers. For someone who’s spent nearly 30 years in the workforce, it’s always interesting to chat with someone who has no idea where their journey will take them.
In my journey, I moved from Plan A to B pretty quickly. Now I’m on Plan M (and probably on my way to Z). I went to college to be an engineer (albeit at a liberal arts institution). After two years of daily bewilderment in the classroom (I'm stubborn that way), I finally decided it was not the path for me and switched to economics.
I hadn't gone to Swarthmore for the sterling academic reputation. Actually, had I known what I was getting into I probably wouldn't have gone. I wanted to play two sports in college and was a good (not great) student in high school. My guidance counselor/football coach had sent three other kids to Swarthmore before me and felt it was a good fit … so I went. Looking back on my time there, beside a diploma from a great school (and meeting the love of my life), the best things I got from college were the ability the think critically and react positively to the disappointment of failure.
After a quick eight-month stint at a consulting firm where I fed punch cards into a computer (yes, I'm that old) I leveraged a few contacts to get an interview to be an insurance underwriter so I could move closer to my fiancé (now wife, Suzanne). Imagine trying to prep for an interview (pre-Internet, mind you) to find out what an underwriter does.
Somehow, I convinced them I was the guy for the job, and I spent two years getting a great fundamental knowledge of insurance by evaluating someone's medical and financial history. The transactional nature of this role was not for me, so I moved on to the sales desk, where I learned how the career and brokerage sides of the life business work from the field's perspective. My performance earned me the chance to manage the team and eventually add the advanced sales group under my watch. Knowing I spent more than a decade of my career in sales, you may think this experience was the catalyst for my transition to the field … but it wasn’t.
When Suzanne had child No. 2, she decided it was time to focus on being a mom, and I needed to find a way to double my income (to replace hers). Given my experience, there were limited options in the home office. So, I took the leap and asked for the opportunity to become a wholesaler. We moved the family to D.C., and I started pounding the pavement to build a business in life brokerage.
The double income was available, but by no means guaranteed as I was on commission. "Eat what you kill" was the mantra, and my family needed to eat. I figured out how to prospect, be efficient with my time, market myself as the product and manage a budget. During this time, I also discovered I didn't like taking orders (from my boss or my customers) and preferred to be the one building the plan. But the wholesaling gig did pay off and, after a few years, I was able to replace Suzanne's income and even surpass it. I was lucky enough, however, to have a boss and mentor who recognized I was not going to make it as a wholesaler long-term and advocated for me to get an opportunity in sales management.
Now nearly 30 years into my insurance "career," I finally found my calling, sales management. The role has allowed me build new things, satisfying that old engineering urge and develop and coach people. Now that I've come full circle, I find it ironic how my series of unintended (random if you will) steps have led to a nice career in insurance. When people now ask what I do, I'm proud to say that I help people identify and realize their dreams. It might be funny to describe my role that way, but I believe in what we do for our clients and should be doing for our employees.
While this path wasn’t planned, it was made possible because, at each step, I worked hard to be the best at what I was doing at the time. I truly believe this earned me the opportunity to do the next thing, and the next thing, and so on. Along the way, my experiences helped add to my competencies and I did my best to supplement them by reading, networking, taking classes, and just becoming a more valuable employee.
If you know what you want to do the rest of your career and have your path laid out, I applaud you. If you don't, and still feel you are searching, don't fret. By making the best of each opportunity, keeping the possibilities open to all that may be ahead, and adding to your skillset every chance you can, you’ll create more OPTIONS, which I truly believe will allow you to have a great career and a fulfilling life. Please go create some OPTIONS for yourself today.
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